Online Threats Against Women Need More Attention, Lawmaker Says

"We must not allow the Internet to be closed to female voices," Massachusetts state representative Katherine Clark says.

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United States representative Katherine Clark (D-Massachusetts) on Wednesday announced a new campaign that calls on the United States Department of Justice to prioritize the investigation and prosecution of cyber abuse crimes that specifically target women.

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Clark writes in her announcement that although there already exist protections for people who face online threats, "enforcement is drastically lagging."

She cited data that claims that federal prosecutors only pursued 10 cyber-stalking cases out of 2.5 million between 2010 and 2013.

"We have to stop seeing this as just an Internet issue," Clark said. "When women are targeted with violent threats online, they are not only forced to fear for their safety, but their ability to fully participate in our economy is jeopardized. We have to examine how well we're enforcing existing protections and work to keep the Internet open for everyone."

Clark wrote a letter to the Appropriations Committee, requesting that "specific considerations" be made for cyber abuse efforts as the group develops the House's funding budget for the Department of Justice. She is seeking the further intensification of efforts to investigate and prosecute cyber harassment.

Specifically, Clark said she is hoping the following passage be included in the Committee's report to the Department of Justice:

"We must not allow the Internet to be closed to female voices, and intensifying the enforcement of existing law is an important first step toward keeping the Internet open to everyone." -- Clark

"The Committee is concerned with the increased instances of severe harassment, stalking, and threats transmitted in interstate commerce in violation of federal law. These targeted attacks against Internet users, particularly women, have resulted in the release of personal information, forced individuals to flee their homes, has had a chilling effect on free expression, and are limiting access to economic opportunity. The Committee strongly urges the Department to intensify its efforts to combat this destructive abuse and expects to see increased investigations and prosecutions of these crimes."

Clark has also drafted a letter to colleagues in Congress, asking for their support.

"The federal government is not responsible for policing the Internet, but it is responsible for protecting the women who are being threatened with rape and murder in violation of existing federal law," she wrote. "We must not allow the Internet to be closed to female voices, and intensifying the enforcement of existing law is an important first step toward keeping the Internet open to everyone."

Clark serves the Fifth District of Massachusetts, making her the congresswoman for video game developer Brianna Wu. Last month, Wu announced that she would not attend PAX East over concerns about her personal safety in the wake of threats against her life.

"We discovered this fall that Brianna was a constituent and reached out to her about what we could do," Clark told Jezebel. "That led us eventually speaking with the FBI about how they're handling these cases."

"I certainty understand there are 15,000 FBI agents globally and they're looking at many issues of terrorism," she added. "Resources are definitely an issue. But what we haven't heard from them, and why we did the letter to appropriations to urge them to make this a priority, is if they need more resources to prosecute those crimes."

The topic of women in gaming has made headlines of late. Over the summer, Assassin's Creed publisher Ubisoft caught flak for its explanation as to why Assassin's Creed Unity has no playable female characters, while Magicka publisher Paradox said the industry should not shy away from talking about the topic. More recently, NBC's Law & Order aired an episode dedicated exclusively to the topic of gaming harassment.

Clark also cites a recent Pew study that found that 73 percent of adult Internet users have witnessed someone being harassed in some way, while 40 percent have personally experienced harassment.

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